Holman Jenkins wants to offer business an easy way out of our democracy problem.
The anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol once again amplified warnings that Republicans’ embrace of Donald Trump’s Big Lie poses a serious threat to our democracy .
Still, Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins, Jr. has reassuring news: Far from representing an authoritarian menace, the GOP’s narrative of rampant electoral fraud is another political circus that will soon pass.
In a column mocking the media’s “remembrances-cum-worry-porn,” Jenkins declares that “the Trump election big lie is likely to fail and dwindle in relevance” because of a combination of political self-interest, bureaucratic integrity, and public skepticism.
This is like watching a band of arsonists pour gasoline all around your block and counting on them to control the fire when the match is lit.
It is also exactly what many of Jenkins’ readers want to hear.
Business v. the Big Lie?
It’s important to note that counter to the prevailing media narrative, most corporations have not resumed business as usual regarding PAC donations to members of Congress who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election as president. This graphic from the newsletter Popular Information shows that corporate PAC funding is down precipitously among election deniers who were incumbent in 2019 and are running again in 2021.
But corporate PACs still gave these legislators $11 million, and as author Judd Legum points out, 2022 will be the real test of their commitment to punish enablers of the Big Lie. Meanwhile, Fox News has paid no discernible price from advertisers for its part in sowing doubt about the 2020 election and spreading wild conspiracy theories about the aftermath of Jan. 6.
Jenkins is effectively telling his readers in the business community that they face no great dilemma. If Republicans are simply blowing off steam when they lie about 2020 and change voting systems to enable partisan interventions, then there’s no need to shrink from the donations that get you in front of their politicians. No need to pull ads from propagandists on Fox. No need to raise the ire of Donald Trump and his followers.
You can’t split the difference on democracy
If you squint, it can even feel like common sense. After all, Jenkins is walking us through a shortcut many busy Americans use when evaluating our polarized politics: Assume both sides are posturing and that the truth must be somewhere in the middle. According to this approach, if Democrats and Republicans are both sounding the alarm about elections, things are probably alright.
But this is where Jenkins misses the point: The common sense of conventional politics cannot guide you through an era in which democracy itself is under sustained assault. As George Packer recently put it, “Nothing has aided Donald Trump more than Americans’ failure of imagination.”
Jenkins pulls off his split-the-difference maneuver by equating the right’s Big Lie to the Russia investigation during the Trump administration, which failed to realize the hopes of many of its cheerleaders on the left. But only one of these campaigns had any basis in fact, and only one is accompanied by a concerted effort to rewrite the laws that undergird American democracy.
The GOP is digging in
Jenkins rejects the idea that the same state legislators who are now proposing to give themselves the power to interfere with the 2024 election would actually do so. After all, he argues, these politicians are merely chasing short-term popularity. Meddling with the 2024 election “would require these same ambitious up-and-comers, in three years’ time when the fever of many Republican voters will have subsided, to go against not only the majority in their state who presumptively voted for the Democrat, but against many Republicans who would also oppose overturning the vote.”
So here is Jenkins’ plan to preserve democracy: Count on Republican voters–some two-thirds of whom say Joe Biden is not the legitimate president–to see things differently after another three years of propagandizing by Fox News and even more extreme competitors.
And then, count on state legislators from gerrymandered districts whose biggest fear is a primary challenge; on secretaries of state who have made the Big Lie their campaign platforms; and on a new crop of lower election officials loyal to Trump to follow their perceived self-interest — and defy him?
To be sure, a lot would have to go Trump’s way for him to pull off an effort to overturn a presidential election. It’s not likely, but it’s far from impossible. And the odds of catastrophe grow every time an influential commentator tells us there is nothing to worry about.
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